Friday, October 16, 2009

Hasankeyf: Are Her Days Numbered?

As our minibus rounds the corner and Hasankeyf comes into view, both sisters become visibly excited. “Let’s go!” and we're off across the bridge for a second glimpse of our first look at this ancient city straddling the Tigris River. A sweeping view of cave houses, ancient minarets, ruins and of course the blue-green of the Tigris as she slips past sheep and cattle grazing along her shores. Below children swim and fish in the river, enjoying their lazy-days-of-summer youth, without a care in the world.

The old minaret in the village.
There are two staircases inside that wrap like a double helix.

But the world cares, and many eyes have turned to this sleepy ancient town in Eastern Turkey. Once the Ilusu Dam is completed 90km down-river, Hasankeyf will be lost forever under rising waters.
Although the town made the list of the World's 100 Most Endangered Sites, locals are in denial.
“Foreign governments are pulling out their support, it will never happen,” a local waiter tells us. He's right; Austria, Germany and Switzerland have all opted out of the project. Another young man, selling carpets made from the hair of his grandfather’s goats plans to move on, “After military service, I’ll settle somewhere else, who can live like this?”

As we explore the old cave area of Hasankeyf, an old woman standing on her cave balcony waves to us and beckons us to come up. We scramble up the side of the cliff as she points out the way, and we are invited into her home, introduced to her grandson and given a cold glass of water from her huge Arcelik-brand fridge, the only appliance in her house. Perched on top is a wild looking skinny little cat, which scurries away when she sees visitors arrive.
There are two rooms here, one looks like storage, and something is scurrying around back there, and I tell myself it’s just the cat.
The main room has a large raised platform, which serves as a bed and sitting area. There are carpets, pillows and sheets everywhere, as well as several plastic containers full of water. Laundry is strung across a line dissecting the room.
I summon up my Turkish and ask her how long she’s been living here.
“Hasankeyf”, she responds. Doubting my Turkish skills, I ask her how many people live here.
“Hasankeyf”, she responds.
“Tu chowani?”, (How are you?) I inquire, (one of the 2 Kurdish phrases I know). Her face lights up and she replies, “Ez bashim!” (I’m good!)
I manage to surmise that five people live in the cave house, and she was born there. The power comes from an extension cord that runs up the mountain and the only appliance it runs is the fridge.

She lets us take a few pictures of her home and points out a few cherished items, a photo here, a trinket there. She shows off a few handkerchiefs and headscarves that she’s tatted around the outside. Mel and I pick a white one with blue beads. The lira we pay for the headscarf is more of a donation, the experience of being able to sit in this woman's home and observe a fading and endangered way of life is priceless.
Later, a café worker would tell us that she is one of only a handful of people still living the cave life in Hasankeyf, the others have moved into houses in the village.
“There used to be a family living in the castle, but they finally moved down to the village, all the water they used had to be transported by donkey up the mountain. It was so hard in winter.”

Heading East

“Two girls traveling alone through south-east Turkey in the dead of summer? Are you mad?”
My sister and I had discussed and dreamed on this trip for years. “Someday”, we’d say, and today “someday” had arrived.
Starting in Sanliurfa, and moving on to Diyarbakir, Mardin and Gaziantep, and taking a few side trips to Harran, Mount Nemrut and the doomed village of Hasankeyf along the way, we braced ourselves for soaring temperatures, pesky children and wandering hands.
Of course we’d been warned. Dangerous, backwards and sizzling hot were just a few of the adjectives we’d heard to describe the area, but none-the-less, we threw some clothes and cash into our backpacks, gathered up our resolve and headed east to see if this area could live up to our curiosity.
This is a tiny slice of what we found.

On the road to Diyarbakir, storm approaching.

The two pictures above were taken from my seat on the public bus. Turks and foreigners alike were horrified to learn that we chose to travel by bus. We loved it. Each city we chose was no longer than two hours from the other, and the system was efficient and quick.

The boy in the top photo is a kind of "bus steward", he's serving up coffee and tea.

Summer Koran lessons in Sanliurfa.

The beehive houses of Harran, outside Saliurfa.

Adorable boy who ran for change in 40 degree heat.
Love that smile!

Prayers in Mardin.

The strangest thing we saw on our trip.
Men hanging out in a barbershop feeding and watching their pigeons.
You know, as you do.

The Han in Diyarbakir.
A lovely place to place to hang out and people watch.

Meet Banu, a lovely woman who found us on the street outside her house in Gaziantep.
She took us in, made us tea, and fed us fruit. Then gave my Turkish skills a real workout!
On the table are her daughter's wedding pictures.
Just one person of many who greeted us with such warmth and hospitality, I was both humbled and touched.

Scenery around Mount Nemrut.
I can't say anything to describe how gorgeous it was, so here's an attempt in photos!

Below, our shadows on Nemrut in the sunrise.
These pictures don't show how cold it was or how strong the wind was!

I have purposely left two places out, Hasenkeyf and Mardin. Stay tuned!